March 5, 2019, John N. Mitchell - The Philadelphia Tribune
After her release from prison in November 2017, Shawn Baker needed help.
“I didn’t know what to do next,” said Baker, who served eight years on an aggravated assault charge. “You are by yourself when you get out and you can become desperate if you don’t have help.”
She got that help through Ardella’s House, a nonprofit that helps incarcerated women transition back into society. They helped her find a job with Peerstar LLC, which helps incarcerated women find housing and jobs upon their release from jail.
“I’m helping people,” Baker said. “People helped me.”
On Tuesday at City Hall, Baker joined local politicians, lawmakers and other stakeholders participating in the National Day of Empathy(NDE). The brainchild of #cut50, NDE is a national bipartisan program whose goal is to cut the national prison population in half over the next 10 years.
There were almost 3 million Americans behind bars by the end of 2016, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
“We’re trying to humanize mass incarceration. If you listen to the stories, they are powerful,” said Tonie Willis, executive director at Ardella’s House and the #cut50 Pennsylvania ambassador. “Once the people tell the story, they want you to take their story and put a face to mass incarceration. Words are powerful. Our hope is that if you listen to the words it might make you move on empathy and think about the things that incarcerated people are going through.”
The program, which ran for approximately three hours, included brief addresses from state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams; City Councilmembers Jannie Blackwell and Curtis Jones; and state Reps. Jordan Harris and Joanna McClinton. Other speakers, all of them addressing the subject of empathy, included District Attorney Larry Krasner and Keir Bradford-Grey, chief defender of the the Philadelphia Defenders Association.